Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What is the Greatest Gift?

“I hate religion and I hate most Christians

This was a facebook post by a former HopeTree resident. My heart sunk and I wondered if I was among those she hated. I walked into uncharted territory and asked. She said, “No Ms. Adele, Not you.” I inquired further to see what was behind the statements. She gave me permission to share the following with you. I pray you have ears to hear for the Lord has something to teach us tonight. “They don’t accept people and they think only they are right and no one else can be.”  She suggests we open your minds before our mouth.” If you read between the lines you will see the problem is, we do not love. God has made me uncomfortable since that day in November and HopeTree employees should be uncomfortable too. We pride ourselves on being a Christian organization and yet we failed this young lady by not following Jesus’ command. We can give her food, clothes, a roof over her head, education, a job, and support, but if we fail to love as Jesus taught us then we have really done nothing. If all we do is love her then we have done everything. Let us pray.

“Lord God, we thank you for your love. Love that does not discriminate, that never ends and has no conditions tied to it. Lord forgive us when our love for others has fallen short. Please send your Holy Spirit and pour out your love onto us this evening. Amen.

The Unforgivable Sin.  Every culture, race, religion has one. Even in the time of Mary and Joseph there was one. Too bad for her, that sin was to be pregnant out of wedlock.  Here she finds herself pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not yet married to Joseph. It was within Joseph’s right to publicly shame and have her stoned.  He could even throw the first one. But in our passage from Matthew we see him do something different. He was going to divorce her quietly. He chose to love her rather than to shame her. But then the angel had a different plan, a better plan. The angel explained to Joseph who this baby was and that he should remain with Mary and name their son Jesus.  Even before Jesus is born we are shown what love looks like. Love is an embrace not a shaming. Joseph chose to embrace Mary rather than shun her. What is this kind of love? Please oblige me and allow me to read from 1 Corinthians 13:1 – 13

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I want to look at two of the nine characteristics of love. The first is Kindness. This is an active word. When you are kind you are doing something for another. As Christians it is important to remember that God is love and where love is God is. As Christians one characteristic of us should be the desire to grow closer to God. When we grow closer to God we live out of love. Being one with God is to continually live in love for others. There should never be a moment that we do not desire happiness for others. In desiring happiness for others we are driven to be kind to them. What does this kindness look like?
A man who lives in Texas noticed a family of 4 leaving the grocery store with their arms filled with groceries. He noticed them cross one side of the street then wait at the median before crossing. He decided to approach them and inquire if they needed a ride. In talking with them he learned they lived 5 miles from the grocery store. This family had already walked five miles to get their groceries and were prepared to walk back five more. The man helped them load their groceries in his car, during the ride he learned they had just resettled in Texas from Africa. They had fled their war-torn country in hopes to give their children a better life here in the US.
This is kindness, going out of our way to help someone with a need. It means sacrifice, whether that be time, money or physical labor. Sacrifice is important to remember because Jesus tells us we are to love as he has loved us. And his love for us led him to sacrifice his life for us. We must ask ourselves, are we in a place where we are willing to sacrifice for others? In order to love others then we need to be open and willing to sacrifice.
The second characteristic of love is courtesy. This is Love in Society, Phrased by scripture as, “Doth not behave unseemly or Love does not dishonor others.” According to Drummond, one does not need smarts to behave in a courtesy manner. It is simply an outpouring of someone who loves everyone. Did you catch that? It’s not something we learn or teach others, courtesy comes from being filled with the love of God.

So why would we withhold the love of God from others? Why do we as a society, refrain from showing courtesy from others? Why do we dishonor other people? I ask these question because as a nation I have seen very little honoring of life and people lacking courtesy towards others. Do you know who Lizzie Velasquez is? 

Lizzie is a 27 year old motivational speaker with a rare genetic disorder. This disorder prevents her from gaining any weight. As a result of her looks she has been the victim of bullying her whole life and has used it as motivation to encourage others to fight against bullying and achieve their dreams. Lizzie is for me a symbol of the lack of love I see in our society. Women are held to ridiculous beauty standards in our society and if you don’t meet them then you are constantly reminded of that through bullying, harassment and sometimes sadly, assault. Women aren’t the only ones who face harsh treatment, receiving less than the courtesy scripture says we are worthy of. Many in the gay community face bullying and harassment, transgendered people face the same harsh treatment. But it doesn’t stop there. You can be shamed and ridiculed for not being white, for being Muslim, Jewish, atheist and so on, basically because you are not Christian. I am not saying all Christian do this but all should speaking up and calling out and proclaiming LOVE for all. People with disabilities are not immune either. We are so quick to dishonor anyone who is not ‘acceptable’ in our eye. The funny thing is scripture tell us our job is to love. There is no mention of differences. In fact, scripture tells us in Christ we are all the same, the labels disappear. So why do we succumb to the divisive labels? These labels we have for those who are different are nothing more than a tool of the enemy. If God calls us to love then Satan will introduce something into our lives to sabotage that love. This Christmas let’s accept God’s gift of Love then turn around and share that love with everyone we meet. To HopeTree employees, let's decide tonight to let love be the motivating factor behind our work with our clients. They deserve nothing less. Every person we encounter deserves nothing less than kindness and courtesy, both attributes of the love we are called to live in scripture. We never know when a person we encounter may be a prodigal child. Drummond asks the question, “How many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of heaven by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside.” God wants all his children to come home to him but he chooses to use us to make that happen. Will we be the agents of love that bring lost souls to Christ or will we be the hindrance that keeps them away from their creator?
It seems like an impossible task but I believe that we can love all as Christ has called us to love. See, another truth I know is that we are all created int the image of God. That means, we all, despite labels, are a reflection of the Divine. And if we are a reflection of the Divine then the love God has for us resides in us. We have all we need to love others. 
Even if you disagree with the gay lifestyle you can still love the LGBTQ community.
Even if you don't understand the transgendered person, you can still love them.
Even if you believe Christ is the answer you can still love people of other faiths.
Even if you are an abled body person you can still love the disabled.
Before I end, I have a message for our residents, young and old, If O or any HopeTree Employee has ever failed to love you I am sorry, will you please forgive us. I now have two requests. If your reasoning for not coming to Christ is because of our behavior I want you to give God a chance, God is not us. God loves you and created you. He has a plan for you that includes a future, a future with hope and promise. 
My last request, if we as adults fail to love you, choose love. You set the example we need for how we are to live with one another.